• Pragmatic language is a crucial aspect of social communication skills that involves the use of language in social contexts.
  • Incorporating pragmatic language IEP goals can help support students in developing their social communication skills.
  • Strategies for building pragmatic language skills and monitoring progress towards these goals are important for successful implementation.

As parent, advocates and teacher, we understand the importance of social communication skills for our students. Pragmatic language is a crucial aspect of communication that involves the use of language in social contexts.

It includes the ability to understand and use nonverbal cues, take turns in conversation, and interpret social situations appropriately.

Young boy with blond hair smiling and spreading his arms wide in a classroom with other children raising their hands in the background to learn about Pragmatic Language IEP Goals.

It’s also an area where a lot of learning disabled students, including autistic students, struggle to understand their peers and the adults around them.

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As we know, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) plays a crucial role in developing social interactions and emotional well-being. Pragmatic Language, which involves using language appropriately in various social contexts, is essential for effective communication.

For individuals with social communication difficulties, IEP goals targeting pragmatic language skills are vital.

Lack of Pragmatic Language Skills

When a child lacks pragmatic skills, it’s the quickest way to misunderstandings, discipline, bullying, ostracization and more.

Children who lack pragmatic language skills may experience various consequences that can impact their social, academic, and emotional development. Some potential consequences include:

  1. Difficulty Establishing and Maintaining Relationships: Without effective pragmatic language skills, children may struggle to initiate and sustain friendships. They may have difficulty engaging in reciprocal conversations, interpreting social cues, and understanding others’ perspectives, which can hinder their ability to form meaningful relationships with peers and adults.
  2. Social Isolation: Children who struggle with pragmatic language skills may feel isolated or excluded from social interactions and activities. They may avoid social situations altogether or experience rejection from peers due to their communication difficulties, leading to feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem.
  3. Misunderstandings and Conflict: Misinterpreting social cues or using inappropriate language can lead to misunderstandings and conflict in social interactions. Children who lack pragmatic language skills may unintentionally offend others, disrupt conversations, or violate social norms, resulting in negative interactions and strained relationships.
  4. Academic Challenges: Pragmatic language skills are essential for success in academic settings, as they support communication with teachers, participation in classroom discussions, and collaboration with peers on group projects. Children who struggle with pragmatic language may have difficulty following instructions, asking for help when needed, and advocating for themselves academically, which can impact their learning outcomes.
  5. Behavioral Problems: Difficulty communicating effectively can contribute to behavioral problems such as frustration, anxiety, and aggression. Children who lack pragmatic language skills may become easily overwhelmed in social situations, leading to meltdowns or withdrawal. They may also exhibit challenging behaviors as a way to cope with their communication difficulties or express their needs and emotions.
  6. Limited Opportunities for Learning and Growth: Poor pragmatic language skills can limit children’s opportunities for learning and growth, both academically and socially. They may struggle to participate in extracurricular activities, collaborate with peers on projects, or engage in meaningful conversations with adults, which can hinder their overall development and potential for success.
  7. Impact on Mental Health: The challenges associated with pragmatic language difficulties can take a toll on children’s mental health and well-being. They may experience feelings of frustration, embarrassment, or inadequacy due to their communication struggles, leading to anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues if left unaddressed.

It’s important to recognize the impact of pragmatic language difficulties on children’s lives and provide them with the support and resources they need to develop and improve their communication skills.

Early intervention, individualized instruction, and ongoing support from parents, educators, and speech-language professionals can help mitigate the consequences of pragmatic language deficits and promote positive outcomes for children.

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Collaborating with IEP teams, including speech-language pathologists and educators, is key to identifying and targeting specific pragmatic language skills. Strategies such as explicit instruction, visual supports, role-playing, and peer interactions are effective in building pragmatic language skills. Ongoing assessment is necessary to monitor progress and adjust goals and strategies accordingly.

Pragmatic Language and Social Communication Skills

As an advocate, I have seen the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the development of social interaction and emotional well-being. Pragmatic Language is a crucial aspect of SEL, as it refers to the ability to use language appropriately in different social contexts.

I have seen the serious repercussions, both socially, academically and more, when a child lacks pragmatic language skills.

Examples of Pragmatic Language

Pragmatic language refers to the social use of language in communication. Here are eight examples:

  1. Turn-Taking: Knowing when it’s appropriate to speak and when it’s appropriate to listen in a conversation. For example, waiting for someone to finish speaking before responding.
  2. Topic Maintenance: Staying on topic during a conversation and appropriately transitioning between topics when necessary. For instance, not abruptly changing the subject or monopolizing the conversation.
  3. Initiating and Ending Conversations: Being able to start and conclude conversations appropriately. This includes using greetings and farewells, as well as recognizing when a conversation has come to a natural close.
  4. Nonverbal Communication: Understanding and using nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language to convey meaning and regulate interactions. This includes maintaining eye contact, interpreting others’ facial expressions, and using appropriate gestures.
  5. Interpreting Figurative Language: Understanding idioms, metaphors, sarcasm, and other forms of figurative language within the context of social communication. For example, recognizing when someone is being sarcastic or understanding the figurative meaning of phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs.”
  6. Making Inferences: Drawing logical conclusions based on context and social cues. This involves understanding implied meanings and making predictions about others’ thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
  7. Respecting Social Norms: Adhering to social conventions and rules of etiquette in various social settings. This includes understanding personal space, taking turns appropriately, and using polite language.
  8. Problem-Solving in Social Situations: Using communication skills to resolve conflicts, negotiate solutions, and navigate social challenges effectively. This involves considering others’ perspectives, expressing oneself assertively but respectfully, and finding mutually agreeable resolutions.

These examples illustrate the diverse aspects of pragmatic language that are essential for successful social interactions and communication. Individuals who struggle with pragmatic language may benefit from targeted interventions and support to develop these skills.

Who Evaluates for Pragmatic Language Skills

In a school setting, pragmatic language skills are often evaluated by a multidisciplinary team that may include:

  1. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs): SLPs are trained professionals who specialize in assessing and treating communication disorders, including pragmatic language difficulties. They often play a central role in evaluating pragmatic language skills through standardized assessments, informal observations, and interactions with the student in various social contexts.
  2. Special Education Teachers: Special education teachers work closely with students who have communication and social skills challenges, including pragmatic language difficulties. They may provide valuable insights into the student’s communication abilities and interactions within the classroom environment.
  3. School Psychologists: School psychologists may contribute to the evaluation process by assessing the student’s overall social-emotional functioning, including their ability to engage in effective communication and social interactions.
  4. Occupational Therapists (OTs): OTs may assess aspects of sensory processing and motor coordination that can impact pragmatic language skills. They may also provide strategies to address sensory sensitivities or motor challenges that affect social participation.
  5. Educational Diagnosticians: Educational diagnosticians may administer assessments to evaluate various aspects of the student’s academic and functional abilities, including communication and social skills. They may collaborate with other team members to gather information and provide recommendations.
  6. Behavioral Specialists: Behavioral specialists may observe the student’s behavior and interactions within the school environment to identify specific challenges and develop behavior intervention plans to support social skill development.
  7. Parents/Caregivers: Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in providing information about the student’s communication abilities, social interactions, and any concerns they have regarding pragmatic language skills. Their input is valuable in understanding the student’s strengths, challenges, and individual needs.

Collaboration among these professionals allows for a comprehensive assessment of pragmatic language skills, leading to the development of targeted interventions and support strategies to help the student succeed in social communication and interactions within the school environment.

Pragmatic Language IEP Goals

Here are 20 sample IEP goals for pragmatic language skills:

  1. Turn-Taking in Conversations: By [date], when engaged in conversation with peers, [student] will take turns speaking and listening, waiting for others to finish speaking before responding, in [percentage] of opportunities.
  2. Topic Maintenance: By [date], during classroom discussions or group activities, [student] will contribute relevant comments or questions related to the topic being discussed and stay on topic for [duration] minutes in [percentage] of opportunities.
  3. Initiating Conversations: By [date], [student] will independently initiate conversations with peers or adults using appropriate greetings and conversation starters (e.g., “Hi, how are you?” “What did you do this weekend?”) in [percentage] of opportunities.
  4. Following Conversational Rules: By [date], when engaging in conversations with peers, [student] will follow conversational rules such as taking turns, staying on topic, and using appropriate body language and eye contact in [percentage] of opportunities.
  5. Understanding Nonverbal Cues: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved understanding of nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, accurately interpreting them in social interactions in [percentage] of opportunities.
  6. Using Polite Language: By [date], [student] will use polite language and appropriate social phrases (e.g., “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me”) in interactions with peers and adults in [percentage] of opportunities.
  7. Interpreting Figurative Language: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved understanding of figurative language (e.g., idioms, metaphors, sarcasm) and use appropriate responses in social interactions in [percentage] of opportunities.
  8. Asking for Clarification: By [date], when unsure about something said in a conversation, [student] will ask for clarification using appropriate language (e.g., “Can you please explain that again?”) in [percentage] of opportunities.
  9. Using Persuasive Language: By [date], [student] will use persuasive language appropriately to express opinions, make requests, and negotiate with peers and adults in [percentage] of opportunities.
  10. Making Inferences in Social Situations: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved ability to make logical inferences based on social cues and context during interactions with peers and adults in [percentage] of opportunities.
  11. Resolving Conflicts: By [date], when faced with a conflict or disagreement with peers, [student] will use appropriate language and problem-solving strategies to resolve the conflict peacefully in [percentage] of opportunities.
  12. Recognizing Social Norms: By [date], [student] will demonstrate understanding of social norms and appropriate behavior in various settings (e.g., classroom, playground, cafeteria) in [percentage] of opportunities.
  13. Interacting in Group Settings: By [date], [student] will actively participate in group activities and discussions, taking turns, sharing ideas, and respecting others’ opinions in [percentage] of opportunities.
  14. Using Humor Appropriately: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved ability to use humor appropriately in social interactions, understanding when and how to use jokes or funny comments in [percentage] of opportunities.
  15. Empathizing with Others: By [date], [student] will demonstrate empathy by recognizing and responding to others’ feelings and perspectives in social interactions in [percentage] of opportunities.
  16. Asking Relevant Questions: By [date], [student] will ask relevant questions to gather information and show interest in others during conversations and group activities in [percentage] of opportunities.
  17. Adapting Language for Different Audiences: By [date], [student] will demonstrate the ability to adapt language and communication style appropriately for different audiences (e.g., peers, adults) in [percentage] of opportunities.
  18. Maintaining Personal Space: By [date], [student] will demonstrate improved awareness of personal space boundaries and respect others’ personal space during social interactions in [percentage] of opportunities.
  19. Using Social Scripts: By [date], [student] will use social scripts or role-play scenarios to practice and generalize appropriate social language and behaviors in various situations in [percentage] of opportunities.
  20. Reflecting on Social Interactions: By [date], [student] will reflect on social interactions, identifying strengths and areas for improvement, and develop strategies for enhancing pragmatic language skills in [percentage] of opportunities.

These goals can be tailored to the individual needs and abilities of the student and should be regularly reviewed and adjusted as progress is made. Collaboration between educators, speech-language pathologists, and other relevant professionals is crucial in developing and implementing effective IEP goals for pragmatic language skills.

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Who teaches pragmatic language skills?


Pragmatic language skills can be taught by various professionals, depending on the setting and individual needs of the student. Here are some key professionals who may be involved in teaching pragmatic language skills:

  1. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs): SLPs are highly trained professionals who specialize in assessing and treating communication disorders, including pragmatic language difficulties. They often play a central role in teaching pragmatic language skills through individual or group therapy sessions. SLPs use evidence-based strategies and interventions to address specific pragmatic language deficits and help students develop effective communication and social interaction skills.
  2. Special Education Teachers: Special education teachers work closely with students who have communication and social skills challenges, including pragmatic language difficulties. They may provide instruction and support within the classroom setting, implementing strategies to promote social communication skills, such as turn-taking, topic maintenance, and problem-solving. Special education teachers often collaborate with SLPs and other professionals to integrate pragmatic language goals into the curriculum and daily activities.
  3. Occupational Therapists (OTs): OTs may address aspects of sensory processing and motor coordination that can impact pragmatic language skills. They may provide interventions to improve self-regulation, sensory integration, and motor planning, which are essential for successful social interactions. OTs may also collaborate with SLPs to address sensory sensitivities or motor challenges that affect social participation and communication.
  4. Behavioral Specialists: Behavioral specialists may teach pragmatic language skills within the context of behavior intervention plans (BIPs) or social skills training programs. They may use applied behavior analysis (ABA) techniques to target specific social behaviors and reinforce desired communication and interaction skills. Behavioral specialists often work collaboratively with SLPs, special education teachers, and other professionals to address pragmatic language deficits and promote positive social interactions.
  5. Psychologists: Psychologists may provide counseling or social-emotional support to students with pragmatic language difficulties, helping them develop self-awareness, self-regulation, and social-emotional competence. Psychologists may also offer cognitive-behavioral interventions to address social anxiety, peer relationships, and other emotional factors that impact communication and social interaction skills.
  6. Parents/Caregivers: Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in teaching pragmatic language skills in naturalistic settings, such as home and community environments. They can reinforce strategies and skills learned in therapy or school settings and provide ongoing support and encouragement. Parents may also participate in parent training programs or workshops to learn effective communication strategies and promote social development in their children.

Autism and Sensory IEP Goals

Ways to Teach Pragmatic Language Skills

Teaching pragmatic language skills involves various strategies and techniques to help individuals understand and use language effectively in social contexts. Here are five ways to teach pragmatic language skills:

  1. Direct Instruction and Modeling: Provide explicit instruction on social language rules and expectations, using clear and concrete examples. Model appropriate communication behaviors, such as taking turns, using polite language, and maintaining eye contact, and explain why these behaviors are important in different social situations. Use role-play activities to practice social interactions and reinforce desired behaviors.
  2. Social Stories and Scripts: Create social stories or scripts that depict common social scenarios and appropriate responses. These stories can help individuals with pragmatic language difficulties understand social cues, predict others’ reactions, and learn appropriate ways to communicate in specific situations. Tailor the stories to the individual’s interests and experiences to increase engagement and relevance.
  3. Video Modeling: Use video modeling to demonstrate desired social behaviors and interactions. Show videos of individuals engaging in social activities, such as conversations, greetings, and problem-solving, and discuss the communication strategies used. Encourage students to emulate the behaviors they observe in the videos and provide feedback on their own communication skills.
  4. Structured Social Skills Training: Implement structured social skills training programs that focus on specific pragmatic language skills, such as turn-taking, initiating conversations, and resolving conflicts. Break down social skills into manageable steps and teach them systematically, providing opportunities for practice and reinforcement. Use visual supports, such as social skill cue cards or checklists, to remind students of expected behaviors.
  5. Real-Life Practice and Generalization: Provide opportunities for real-life practice and generalization of pragmatic language skills in authentic social contexts. Encourage students to participate in social activities, clubs, or group settings where they can interact with peers and apply their communication skills in meaningful ways. Offer guidance and support as needed, and provide feedback on their social interactions to promote continued learning and growth.

These strategies can be tailored to the individual needs and preferences of the learner, and may be implemented in various settings, including classrooms, therapy sessions, and everyday social situations. Consistent practice, positive reinforcement, and ongoing support are key factors in helping individuals develop and improve pragmatic language skills over time.

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